From the upper tier of the Cusack Stand in Croke Park, my sister and I waved and sent positive vibes toward Papa Francesco as he travelled in the Popemobile, reminding me of the Energizer Bunny – fully charged – going round and round the stadium saying hello.
As the audience settled down to enjoy the concert with stars Nathan Carter, Andrea Bocelli, the Riverdance performers, etc., we began to get a sense of the real flesh and blood Pontiff – the renowned grandfather-like figure. While a number of families met him on stage – Indian, Irish, Iraqi and so on – he greeted them with smiles, caresses and gifts. The drama, dance and show continued with colourful enthusiasm until the moment came for Papa to talk.
He spoke clearly and simply in his foreign tongue about love and forgiveness in the family. He emphasised the need to say “please, thank you, and sorry” to each other. He asked us to say the words out loud,“PLEASE, THANK YOU, and SORRY”, and to repeat them one more time. Everyone in the stadium spoke in unison, to which he replied in English, “Thank you very much!”
He also pointed out how easy it is to caress each other. I pondered that we have a vital need from our earliest moments to the end of our days for touch. At times, I need a handshake, ‘high five’ or friendly pat on the shoulder. Other times, I need a hug, hand to hold or gentle kiss. After his blessing the celebrity elder said: “Goodnight, rest well, and see you tomorrow”.
My sister and I chatted about the event as we walked for four miles home. The buses were packed but that was okay. We talked about getting McDonald’s fries but in the end the walk was enough.
We chatted with mam at home who also went to Croke Park but was seated at a different location with her friend, and we caught up with granny who watched the event on TV. We laughed, we joked (mam got a kick out of my impersonation of the Pontiff)… and I took the Pope’s advice to rest well. I looked forward to another day of life in the Spirit.
Toward the Phoenix Park
So we almost jumped out of bed in the morning for another day of Pope frenzy. We watched him pray at Knock shrine, noting that he and 45,000 others prayed in silence, and I think he was delighted (as was I!) to see the icon of Our Lady Queen of Knock with her golden crown. A family at the airport was thrilled to have met him, declaring that the photo they snapped with him will be a family heirloom forever.
As Pope Francis flew back to Dublin for the Phoenix Park Mass, my mam, sister and I got ready for the pilgrimage with rain gear and some food. We drove into the city and parked as near as possible. We soon joined hundreds of other pilgrims walking the North Circular Road on Dublin’s north-side and in through the Phoenix Park entrance. We walked freely on the main road and I noticed Papal flags, lots of nationalities, and the renewed green grass. We got through a check point – with a smiling volunteer guiding me through – and we felt the excitement upon seeing the Papal Cross and stage.
We were soon searching for our seats while the real Pope caught the corner of my eye, as he travelled around on his Popemobile again. The excitement was tangible as we turned to our servant leader. Suddenly, we were facing the main stage, the red carpet, and the priests (I spotted Fr Ray Kelly the ‘Hallelujah’ singing priest). Eventually we realised our seats were further back, so we turned around and found our spot.
The 3,000 strong choir prepared us for the Mass with peaceful, reverential singing. Pope Francis opened the Mass with a traditional blessing. There was a solemn atmosphere when he asked God for forgiveness for the Church’s sins, especially as a result of the clerical sex abuse. My mam commented that it was a good way to start. There were readings, more singing, gestures, incense, and it was amazing to experience the universal celebration of coming together for the Eucharist.
There was a moment before Communion when I bowed my head, and it seemed as though time stood still. It was as if I was wrapped in a warm blanket to comfort me. I felt calm, relaxed and content. I thought to myself: “I’m doing well. We are doing well. All is well”. A peace overcame me – a heartfelt sensation – and I opened my eyes in joyful acknowledgement that this moment was a gift from God.
We lined up a bit randomly for Communion – so many people saying “Amen” – and female volunteers, for example, brought priests to their spaces. We returned to our seats and prayed. Entering into a space of peace and serenity with so many people was deeply consoling. “What a powerful remedy for an often chaotic world of high stress and anxiety,” I thought.
The Pope said a few more words while the Communion continued to be distributed. It was announced that the next World Meeting of Families will take place in Rome, and there was a cheer from the congregation upon hearing this news. A Cardinal expressed gratitude to the Pontiff for his time and presence. Then, Pope Francis wished us well and blessed us with the sign of the Cross. Our servant leader departed, travelled with his entourage, and so the Mass finished.
We went up to the stage afterwards and took some photos. We bumped into a few Jesuits who we knew and we shared our joy and enthusiasm with each other. We sat down again to eat some food and I appreciated a bit of chocolate from a nun friend of mam’s who was passing by. We eventually walked to the exit while listening to Christian music in the background. We joined the crowd again as we walked out of the park in the midst of a celebratory atmosphere. We spoke fondly of the Pope, the event, volunteers, army, police, and pilgrims. We were tired but satisfied as we returned to our car.
We came home and met with granny again, and we caught up on the Pope’s visit as a whole. We saw him say “goodbye” to the Irish people on TV before he entered the Aer Lingus airplane. His smile beamed once more like a tender-hearted grandfather, always ready to spread the joy.
The World Meeting of Families and the Pope’s visit brought us together as a family. We got to know each other better in our pilgrimage with the Pontiff. We spoke of God and Jesus with passion. We felt the pain of a broken Church who asked for forgiveness. I am grateful to ‘the energiser Pope’ for igniting our path and for preparing us for the many challenges ahead.